13-14th Aug 2019: Midnight: Sitting beside the bed of an old patient in SMHS hospital is not easy when everything seems to have been made to collapse as a “collective punishment” to eight million people of Kashmir on 5th august by a mere government order. This old and lifeless patient is on his own and in severe pain. His eyes are fixed on the door. Perhaps, waiting for somebody, doctor or relative? The catheter full of yellow fluid is overflowing on the floor under his bed. The nurse has forgotten to empty it or she might have gotten busy with more serious patients. Hospital beds are all occupied by patients and many ailing lying on the bare floor. Every after second minute, sick people come for emergency treatment.
I smile at him to take his eyes off the door and ask, “uncle! is there anything I can do for you? He stares at me. I can see water rising like flood in his eyes. He is complaining, “I am waiting for my son for the last eight days. He said he will get food from home but he hasn’t turned up. I feel deeply hurt. I can’t move from bed. I need help but last eight days have drained my energy, my resolve to wait and seek treatment. God is punishing me for my sins. Is everything fine outside? Maybe it is not fine outside. I asked the doctors; they just look the other way. I was told at the time of my early check-up I came to hospital that I will be shifted to the proper ward. It didn’t happen. I think doctors are also waiting for my son to turn up”. At the sight of a nurse who looks tired and sleepy, he stops his conversation. She comes close to an old patient and starts to empty the catheter bag in a paper pan. She forces smile on her pale face and whispers in my ear, “what is situation outside, all shut and restricted? Even, our mouths are being forced to shut or we will lose our jobs. Patients are suffering miserably when there are no doctors and nurses around. Ambulances are used to pick and drop the medical staff instead of patients. I have a five-year-old son at home with my mother. Working like a machine for the last five days has made me grumpy and gutted. I don’t know if I could see my son again”. While emptying catheter she talks without looking at me. “there is no medicine for patients. It will become one big medical disaster very soon but government has put an iron curtain over everything and will never admit it”.
She is not concentrating on her job due to which the yellow fluid is overflowing the pan. The stench makes sitting here unbearable. I jolt her. She talks to an old patient, “Uncle, you were just getting worried that your family has let you on your own in hospital. Look now your daughter has come in this dreadful curfew …. are you now feeling fine? She is cleaning floor with wet wipes…….
Uncle patient is looking at me and I, at him. He turns his head towards the other side. May be, he is feeling sorry to doubt the loyalty of his family. He seems much worried now about his son….
Thousands of youth have been taken into custody, mostly kids as young as eight or nine years have been snatched from the laps of their mothers by Indian security forces. They have carte blanche to kill, injure, arrest or pellet under the AFSPA (special Army powers Act). we are virtually living under dictatorship currently. Why is Idi Amin’s smirky face mocking at me? Or is this Modi’s face? Oh! God! Is Modi Amin’s reincarnation? Can Muslim be reborn in other religion? I must put leash on my weird thoughts or they are going to lead me in trouble…….
There comes a big scream, shrill and piercing, like glass jar has broken into thousand pieces on the floor. The girl behind the bed of an old patient is crying in agony. Doctors have checked her up many times but are unable to diagnose what she is suffering from. Her mother is holding her, mopping sweat on her forehead. The woman wearing black scarf near the bed tells me, “She was found lying unconscious in the backyard of her house in Aanchar Mohalla where protests against government have resulted in tear gas shelling and aerial firing by Army. The eight-year girl is suffering from serious respiratory ailment. Her mother had to seek help from a neighbour who brought both of them to hospital on a Moped scooter. All blood tests are normal except echo of heart and some obstruction in the respiratory tract. The heart beat has become irregular too. Her father is thousands of miles away in Calcutta where he is earning as a shawl vendor and couldn’t be contacted due to the communication blockade announced by Indian government after scrapping of Art 370 of the constitution. Her mother says, “It is much worse than the Israel what India is doing to us. Modi has no kids, so cannot understand the pain of a child. Whether my girl lives or dies but Modi will have to pay the price for the pain, siege and suffering of these children one day”. She becomes hysterical, beats her chest and wails loudly. Other patients ask her to calm down. I hug her and try to comfort her by my futile attempt of empty words. The girl starts crying again. Mother hugs her daughter and wipes her tears by the corner of her scarf.
One of the senior doctors is rushing towards the emergency ward, few nurses are following him. I go close to them and see this young boy being shifted from the ambulance to stretcher kept ready by volunteers. The boy is unconscious with thick stains of dried blood over his clothes. His father says, “my son got injured during Soura protests. A doctor in the neighbourhood treated his wounds but he gets dizzy spells every after few hours. I had to walk five miles to the house of an ambulance driver who came home at midnight. I begged him to take my son to hospital. Doctor, His life is in your hands, please save him, he is the only support of my life”. He starts circling around doctor in frenzy, wailing and shouting. Doctor advises nurses to move him quickly to the operation theatre. He might have pellets inside his skull.
There is suffocation, subjugation and humiliation written on every face. This is getting more worse since 5th august. How is it right for one billion Indians to watch this slow death of eight million Kashmiris? Can this be satisfying their “collective conscience” or they are also helpless like we have become? My thoughts are wandering in wilderness….
Soon, another ambulance stops near the emergency ward. The lady inside is in labour pain. “She should have been taken to Lal-Ded Maternity hospital. Why has she been brought here”? Accompanying her is a lady doctor who shows hospital notes to a senior doctor. Both doctors look worried and exchange some thoughts about her treatment. The lady doctor makes space to get her moved to emergency for some blood tests immediately before taking her to the operation theatre. She has lost blood and there is no blood available in LD hospital.
The noise at the gate gets louder and stronger. Shouts, wailing and crying make it scarier. Ambulance horns burst hospital walls.
This night is stretching too long. It has become too dark and too painful.
A white van of voluntary organisation enters the gate with ready meals and medicines for the patients who are on their own here. Volunteers give small food packets to patients and their attendants and are asking them if they need more. This gives hope to live…. despite so much misery.
A new group of nurses enter the ward and take round of every bed to share patients notes. They ask about the health of the patients. Fake smiles on their faces make situation abnormal.
There is a long cue of people at the pharmacy counter and the other cue is near OPD centre where one mobile phone has been left available by a senior doctor, people are using it to enquire about their relatives and kids outside Kashmir.
I feel dizzy and sleepy. My eyes become too heavy to keep open. I have no car to take me home. My cousin sister has left soon after dropping me here. I need hot tea to keep me alive for some time more. At the entrance of the emergency ward I ask ambulance driver of the voluntary organisation if he is going towards the civil lines area so that he can drop me somewhere close to my home. He is going to Airport to pick up some medical employees. Without thinking, I jump into his vehicle and request him to take me to airport so that I can get somebody to give me lift to home.
On our way to airport, driver is being stopped and asked many questions by the security forces. He is repeating his reply dozens of times. Security forces think I am also a doctor. At one point, I try to disclose my identity but driver scolds me. He tells them that I just finished my night shift in hospital and is being dropped at airport, which has become a temporary pick up point for medical staff from Budgam area.
The road to Airport has a house of separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, due to which the road has become cantonment of security forces. If the road were left free of security forces, what could have happened? A call for strike or shut down of life? What more Geelani can do who is incarcerated in his house for the last ten years now. Oh! I should not think about Geelani or security forces will read my mind……I cannot think about Abdullahs or Muftis now…. all placed in prisons…….
The scene is altogether different at the airport what I experienced in hospital. It gives some sense of what government of India has planned for Kashmiris who are stripped off their identity, constitution and flag. Is it the beginning of some dangerous plan? I wish I could talk to my editor and give him one big scoop …
I am too tired and cannot reveal anything until I get out of this place….
(The writer is associated to Independent Urdu (British Paper) and author of “Lost in Terror”.)